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Incidents, coincidence.... if Jan hadn't gone to jail, Joe Puma might never have known I was in town. And if he hadn't learned that, he couldn't have told his wife, and I never would have become involved in his shoddy business.
The above is confusing; let me put it into sequence.
I had this sidehill birdie putt of about nine feet on the thirteenth green. After two consecutive presses, I figured it was a sixteen-dollar putt. I was playing with two doctors and a lawyer; sixteen dollars meant nothing, to them. But I had become solvent only recently. With my economic conditioning, sixteen-dollar putts will always be scary.
I gave it a lot of thought and surveillance, as the pros on the boob tube do, and was walking back to putt when I saw the kid who picked up range balls coming along the fairway in an electric cart.
He was obviously coming from the clubhouse with a message. Since both doctors in the foursome were obstetricians, the chance of his having a message for me was remote. But I waited. I am not too sound on sidehill putts.
"Mr. Callahan," the kid called, "I have a message for you."
"What is it?" I asked.
He looked embarrassed. "It's, uh, personal."
It was my turn to look embarrassed, but mostly I was frightened. Personal could mean accident, personal could mean death, personal could only mean Jan, my wife.
It was Jan. "She's in jail," the boy told me quietly. "She wants you to come there right away."
I climbed into the cart. "Something came up," I called to the others. "Something important." What else could I say—that my wife was in jail? I was a new member.
We rode in silence for about fifty yards and then the kid opened up. "No need to be embarrassed, Mr. Callahan. We got a call from Judge Vaughan's wife, too."
That put Jan in select company. Lois Vaughan was our town's most admired woman worker for worthy causes. But what worthy cause could land both of them in the clink?
The San Valdesto County jail was high on a hill north of town, close to the general hospital. The parking lot was half-filled when I got there and more cars were coming in. I pulled the Mustang into a space at the far end—just as Judge Vaughan's Mercedes pulled into the adjoining space.
We both got out and he looked at me over the top of his car, a tall, portly and obviously irritated man. "Jan, too?" he asked me.
He shook his head. "Damn that woman! Recording for the blind, the Salvation Army, the Heart Fund, the Children's Home Society—that's not enough for Lois. She's got to get herself involved with those pukey militant punks, too."
"Punks," he repeated. "The only thing those kids know is protest. The only work they can handle is carrying signs."
"CANA," I guessed.
He nodded. "What else? Let's go in and bail them out."
Citizens Against Nuclear Armageddon—CANA. The local paper had been giving them the front page for a week. Ground had been broken out at Point Mirage, two miles from where we stood, for a projected nuclear power plant. CANA protesters, most of them from the local campus of the state university, had been picketing the place.
Toward the entrance we walked, across the blacktop shimmering in the unclouded sun. "I had Doc Ellers down three holes with four to go," he told me, "and then this!"
How sad, how cruel, that Armageddon should interrupt anything as important as that.... I said nothing.
"What in hell is this world coming to?" he asked me.
Armageddon? "You got me, Alan," I said.
The waiting room was full of long benches; the benches were about half-occupied. They looked like parents to me, solid-citizen types.
At the counter, Alan told the woman behind it, "I'd like to talk with Sheriff Clune."
"He's busy, sir, "she said.
"Well, you run in and tell him Judge Vaughan is here and let him decide how busy he is."
She gave him the bureaucratic glazed look for about ten seconds. "One moment, sir," she said quietly, and went to a phone on a nearby desk. She was back in less than a minute. "He'll see you. His office is—"
"I know where it is," he told her. "Let's go, Brock."
Sheriff Clune was as tall and thick as Judge Vaughan, but more—well, more macho looking, all cop. He got up from his big desk in his big office as we entered. "Alan, what can I do for you?"
"You can release my wife in my custody."
"She's the only wife I have. She was brought in with those CANA creeps."
Clune smiled. "You won't need me for that, Alan. Only about half a dozen are being held, and I'm sure Lois isn't one of them. She's probably waiting for you outside right now."
"I hope so," Vaughan said. "If she isn't, I'll be back." He went out, and slammed the door behind him.
Clune sighed, and looked at me.
"The Judge forgot to introduce me," I said. "My name is Callahan. My wife was probably in the same group. I'll go outside and look for her."
He frowned. "Callahan? Just one moment." He bent over his desk and went through some papers. "Is that Mrs. Brock Callahan?"
"This is a slightly different case," he explained. "Most of them were guilty of unlawful assembly, and we decided to forget it. But assaulting a police officer....?"
"With what?" I asked. "What is he, a midget?"
"This is hardly a time for levity, Mr. Callahan. The officer is over at County General right now, having some stitches taken in his scalp. Evidently she hit him on the head with her sign."
"I see. Was it provoked or unprovoked assault?"
He stared at me. It was almost a glare.
"My wife," I said, "weighs one hundred and eleven pounds and is an extremely law-abiding woman. As a matter of fact, I don't think she's even had so much as a parking ticket."
"I'm sure the judge will take her record into account."
"Judge? She's being held for trial?"
"She is. Bail has been set at five thousand dollars."
I had no further words for him. I went out and slammed the door, as my predecessor had, and went back to the big waiting room.
And there (incident two, coincidence one) at the bail counter was Joe Puma.
"Callahan!" he said. "What the hell you doing in San Valdesto?"
"Living. And you?"
"Oh, some bail bonds, some divorce work, credit and security checks, whatever makes me a buck. Been up here two years." He paused. "You still handling bail bonds?"
I shook my head. "That's not why I'm here. I'm retired. Joe, I don't have much money on me, and my wife is being held on five thousand dollars bail. You take care of it, and I'll mail you a check for five hundred tonight. Unless you accept credit cards?"
He shook his head. "No need, Brock, baby. I trust you. Let's go over here and fill out the forms."
I sent him the check that night. So what did I owe him? It's hard to explain to a layman, but I'll try. We were peers, or had been. We had prowled the Los Angeles streets together, despised by police, scorned by citizens less honest and gutty than we were. We had to scramble for every dirty dollar, which meant we had to cut a corner now and then. Who doesn't? Let's just say he was my kind of bastard.
When the deputy brought Jan out, she was steaming. "Cossacks!" she screamed. "Storm troopers! Who's the head man around here?"
"Sheriff Clune," I told her. "I've just come from his office. Let's go home."
"Like hell! Where's his office?"
She said, very evenly, "Wait in the car if you want to. I'll find his office."
I knew that mood. I said, "Follow me."
The door was ajar when we got there. Jan pushed it open. Sheriff Clune was behind his desk. He looked up, frowning.
My bride had regained her composure. She said with quiet dignity, "I think you should know, Sheriff, that not only did your deputy call me an obscene name, he threatened me with physical violence. Lois Vaughan will confirm that. I expect you to take appropriate disciplinary action."
Down the hall in silence, out to the parking lot.
"What was the obscene name?" I asked her.
I kept a straight face. "And the threat?"
"He said, 'You hit me with that sign, spindle-shanks, and I'll break it over your pretty head.'"
"It's possible," I said doubtfully, "a clever defense attorney might make something out of that."
"We won't need an attorney. Did you notice how worried he looked when I mentioned Lois Vaughan?"
Nothing from me. I held the door of the Mustang open for her. She got in and I went around to climb behind the wheel.
"Are my legs really that thin?" she asked.
"They are thin, but very well proportioned. And you certainly have a pretty head, as the man said. I'm not sure we have a case."
"There'll be no case. I don't want to cook. Let's eat out."
"There's a CANA meeting at eight o'clock," she told me. "I think you should come with me. I think you should get involved in community affairs."
I didn't argue with her. She could do far worse than hitting me over the head with a sign. She could get one of her convenient headaches.
"I'll go, "I said.CHAPTER 2
The meeting was held in the Odd Fellows' Hall, a properly named forum for the assemblage. They were a mixed group, both long- and short-haired students, a few militant firebrands, counterbalanced by the solid, stolid, older Citizens Who Care.
The firebrands ranted their noisy absurdities, studded with non sequiturs. The concerned senior citizens were more rational, but duller. Most of the students either sat and listened quietly or asked pertinent questions, a comforting thought for the future.
And then it was time for the adversary windup discussion, a geology professor from the university versus a representative from the South Coast Electric Company.
It was a mismatch, both orally and physically, a travesty.
The professor was a bull of a man with a voice like thunder who knew what he was talking about—or seemed to. The company man was thin as a matador, but his employer had given him a dull sword. He was plainly not a geologist, simply their front man. All he knew was what he read from his sheets on the lectern.
The bull bellowed about land shifts and land drifts, about earthquake faults and underground water erosion, and made it all, as vivid and frightening as a horror story.
The matador read his dull statistics, his printed quotes from other alleged experts, all in his pedestrian voice as he sank deeper and deeper into the dust of the ring.
At the few bullfights I have witnessed, I have always rooted for the bull. Almost everybody in the room was rooting for the bull tonight. I would have put my money on him, but my heart belonged to the matador. Gutty losers are my spiritual twins.
Even at the end, during the question and answer period, his sword bent, his body gored in half a dozen places, my twin fought on, erect, defiant, proud.
As we filed out Jan said, "Professor Barlow certainly made a fool out of that company fink, didn't he?"
"The man is no fink. Mr. Hemingway named him years ago in a story called The Undefeated.' I forget his hero's name."
"You're crazy," she said. "The man is a fink. You do admire losers, don't you?"
"No, ma'am. I sympathize with losers. I reserve my admiration for people who don't quit."
"Macho, macho," she said. "Macho yo-yo, ex-jock macho yo-yo. How did I ever get tied up with you?"
"Any damned time you want to get untied, just say the word."
She stopped walking and gripped my arm. "Hey! What's the matter with you? I was joking!"
"I'm sorry," I said. "I—I overreacted. I apologize."
"You do that a lot lately," she said. "You need something more important than golf to occupy your mind. We could use you in CANA."
"Okay. I wonder how your Professor Barlow would fare against animals who run both ways?"
"You've lost me again," she said wearily. "What did you mean by that?"
"It's from a letter Hemingway wrote to William Faulkner. Faulkner had this collection of hunting stories out, and Mr. H wrote him that he would have admired them more if they'd dealt with animals that run both ways."
Nothing from her.
"You see, what he meant, lions and tigers run toward you at times, but deer and pheasants and rabbits—"
She said patiently, "I know what Hemingway meant. What I was thinking ... I'm not sure you belong in CANA."
"I'll decide that," I said. "Are you getting a headache?"
"Of course not. I don't fight that way. Let's hurry home, lover."
She is a great girl, my Jan. Our attitudes rarely mesh, but she is a great girl. At breakfast I told her, "You are a great girl—or woman, if you prefer."
"I'm getting to an age where I prefer girl," she said. "Do you mean I'm great in the hay?"
"All around. I love you so much it hurts."
"It's mutual. Why do we fight so often?"
"Because we are what we are. If I could change you or you could change me, we would both be less than we are."
"That's either cornball or profound," she said. "I'll give it a lot of thought as I do my household chores."
"I have told you a dozen times that we can afford a housekeeper. Why don't you hire one?"
"When I can find one who isn't a slob, I'll hire one. Golf again today?"
"Nope. I think I'll run down and pay a visit to Lenny Devlin."
"Now that is a real nice thought. Give him my love."
Lenny "Pepper" Devlin had been my boyhood idol. He was a San Valdesto native, but had ventured out into the cruel world at fifteen to play third base in the Appalachian league. Two years later he was playing in the majors. When he reached forty-one, he put the glove in mothballs and came back to his hometown with his beloved Gloria. They had no kids; all they had was each other.
His Gloria had been killed in a car crash two years ago. Lenny had gone to the place where he now lived eight months ago.
On the way down I stopped at a liquor store to buy him a bottle of vintage corn and a carton of cigarettes. I know that cigarettes are a cancer-inducing agent, but Lenny already had that—what he called "The Big C." He still drank and he still smoked when the doctors weren't watching, and he would continue both until the final out.
The place where he lived was a converted mansion near the foothills. It was run by a wealthy woman who also had not been blessed with children. Some of the residents were sick, some were simply old. All, like Lenny, were dying. Who isn't?
He was in the backyard, sitting under a jacaranda, reading the sport pages of the Los Angeles Times.
"Brock the Rock," he said as I came over. "What's in the bag?"
"Opiates," I said. "How's it going, Pepper?"
"I'm still here."
In his playing days he had weighed a hundred and sixty-five pounds. He now weighed a hundred and ten. But he was still here, at the age of fifty-seven.
"Those damned Dodgers!" he said. "Every night they invent a new way to lose a ball game. They're inventors, that's what they are. They're not ballplayers, they're inventors."
"Right!" I took out a package of cigarettes, opened it, and handed him one.
"Any of those quacks around?" he asked me.
I shook my head. "It's Wednesday, Lenny. There's an AMA rule—all doctors are required to play golf every Wednesday. Except for psychiatrists. They play tennis."
He nodded. "I forgot. What's new with you?"
"Nothing exciting. Have you been reading about the CANA gang? Or do you only read the sports page?"
"I read everything," he said, "including the obituaries. What about CANA?"
"I went to one of their meetings last night. There was a speaker there named Barlow. Isn't that a famous name in this town?"
"Hell, yes! They go back to the Spanish land grants. They owned a quarter of this country at one time. Which Barlow was it?"
"I forget his first name. He teaches geology out at U.C.S.V."
"Judson," he said. "I went to high school with him. He was a second-string fullback at Princeton. All the Barlow men went there."
"He's a big man. I mean—physically."
"And a big bully, and a big windbag. I got this feeling that if you gave him an enema, you could bury him in a matchbox."
"That's the way I read him. What I can't figure, he's on the wrong side of the fence. He doesn't shape up as the environmentalist type."
"If he's on the wrong side of the fence, there's an angle to it. You used to play cop; look for the hole in the fence."
"I didn't play cop, Lenny. I was a state licensed and bonded private investigator. I worked at it."
"Hurrah! What you were was the best damned football player the Rams ever had. The rest was hogwash, and you know it."
Excerpted from The Cana Diversion by William Campbell Gault. Copyright © 1982 William Campbell Gault. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted April 28, 2015